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Erin Burnett Outfront
Sen. Johnson Leads GOP Delay Tactics on COVID Relief Bill; Forces Clerk to Read Bill All 628 Pages, Expected to Take 10 Hours; U.S. Officials: Investigators Examining Communications Between Lawmakers and Pro-Trump Mob that Stormed U.S. Capitol; Texas Business Owners Divided Over Easing of Restrictions; Cuomo Accuser and Former Aide Says She Believes New York Governor Was Propositioning Her for Sex; Poisoned Putin Critic Moved to Holding Cell After Biden Sanctions Russia. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired March 04, 2021 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WOLFBLITZER. Tweet the show @CNNSITROOM.
Erin Burnett OUTFRONT starts right now.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, stunt man. Republican Senator Ron Johnson, the one who claims the Capitol riot didn't seem like an armed insurrection, well, he's forcing a 10-hour reading of the COVID relief bill right now on the Senate floor, a stall tactic that's making a joke of COVID relief.
Plus, breaking news, CNN learning federal investigators are looking at communications between members of Congress and the pro-Trump mob that attacked the Capitol. Did rioters get any help from lawmakers?
And one county in America with a glimpse into the future. Nearly half of the adult population has their vaccine shots, how life there is getting back to normal. Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening. I'm Erin Burnett.
OUTFRONT tonight, stunt show. Let me just show you some live pictures. That's the Senate floor. The Senate clerk is reading out loud the 628- page COVID relief bill. This is expected to take about 10 hours and it's after all 628 pages. And you can thank Republican Senator Ron Johnson for this stall tactic. It is a stunt, pure and simple.
Johnson says by having the bill read until at least midnight, he can change some Democrats' minds. But that is not what he is actually trying to do. First of all, only one senator has been in the room the whole time listening, only one, and that Senator is Ron Johnson.
The senators who have been there, at most it's been a handful at a time, they weren't even paying close attention when they did stop by. This reading is not going to do anything but delay. Just hear it from the Majority Leader himself. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): We all know this will merely delay the inevitable. It will accomplish little more than a few sore throats for the Senate clerks who work very hard, day in, day out, to help the Senate function.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So, no, Johnson isn't going to change any minds and he knows that. He has a troubling face for opposition to the bill as well. Because Johnson has become a face of Trump's election lies. He staked his career on this. He has become known because of his support for Trump's election lie. I mean, here he is recently repeating the lie that Trump supporters weren't even behind the insurrection.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): A very few didn't share the jovial, friendly, earnest demeanor of the great majority. Some obviously didn't fit in.
And he describes four different types of people, plainclothes militants, agents provocateurs, fake Trump protesters, and then a disciplined uniform column of attackers. I think these are the people that probably planned this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: That was untrue, he knew it. And when Johnson was Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, he actually held a hearing. He held a hearing to elevate what he knew was Trump's big lie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNSON: A large percentage of the American public does not believe the November election results are legitimate. Many of these irregularities raise legitimate concerns and they do need to be taken seriously.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And Johnson has also pushed Trump's false claims about coronavirus cure, specifically hydroxychloroquine. Johnson is not a person who is going to change minds and he is not trying for anything more than a simplistic circus stunt. This is not the time for that. This is the time to have a serious substantive debate about the bill if that is what you're about. But that, of course, is not what this is about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... location of the business concern or organization and DB (ph) is a majority owned or controlled by business concern organization ...
(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: That's the page something of 628 being read to Ron Johnson on
the floor. A lot of Americans are depending on some of what's in this bill, that includes $1,400 stimulus checks and unemployment assistance. If Johnson wants to make the COVID relief bill better, there are other ways to do it. Ways that could work like working with Democrats coming up with amendments. That would be best for everyone.
Because to be honest, we only learned a lot of the details in this bill today. Democrats are trying to ram the $1.9 trillion plan through. But Sen. Ron Johnson is not the face you put up to get a better bill and he's not trying to. He's not trying to change minds or reveal some smoking gun in the 628 pages. He is just pulling a stunt.
Manu Raju is OUTFRONT from Capitol Hill. So, Manu, what is Johnson's plan here? As we're pointing out, he's the only one sitting listening to this right now.
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I just actually emerged from the Senate chamber and he was in fact the only senator other than the presiding officer who was there. He's flipping through the bill pages one by one as the clerks are reading it. He's got his mask on his desk because he's listening. But his mind is already made up as is the mind of most senators on both parties right now about whether or not to get behind this massive proposal.
This reading could take up to 10 hours and then at that point, the Senate is expected to essentially adjourn for the night, delaying a debate that would happen on the Senate floor ordinarily at this time.
That debate would occur tomorrow before there is a marathon series of votes starting in the afternoon. And with Johnson and other Republicans planned to try to derail this bill, trying to change it to their liking, try to court any Democratic support, tactics like this that Johnson is employing is not going to win over Democrats. But perhaps negotiations behind the scenes could and there's no sign that that's happening yet.
But what Johnson is brining behind the scenes is he's talking to a number of his colleagues to essentially have offered an almost seemingly endless amount of amendments. He's trying to schedule shifts in which senators would actually offer amendment starting tomorrow afternoon, through tomorrow night into the weekend to keep the Senate voting on amendments and not moving towards final passage.
He can do that under the rules of the process they are employing here. But he, according to Democrats, is only delaying the inevitable because they are still confident that they are going to get enough votes to get this bill through. They just need to keep their caucus together at the moment they're united.
And Erin, Ron Johnson too up for reelection has not made a decision yet. He did tell me though he believes he is the number one target of Democrats come next year, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much Manu.
And OUTFRONT now, I want to go to Cecilia Rouse on her first interview since becoming Chair of President Biden's White House Council of Economic Advisers. I really appreciate your time, Chairwoman.
So, Republicans are trying to delay the vote on the bill, obviously, as we're laying out here, but Democrats did sort of plop the whole 628 pages down on the table pretty much here as we're hitting the finish line. Did they miscalculate by trying to push this through so quickly?
CECILIA ROUSE, CHAIRWOMAN, WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: Well, look, it's important to remember that we are still in the middle of this pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis. We're definitely seeing signs of life coming back and in terms of the vaccines are on the way, it's going to be spring and we know we're going to get past this pandemic.
But we're not there yet and importantly in just 10 days, 11 million Americans are going to lose our unemployment insurance benefits. We have 1 million families that are on unemployment, that depend on those checks that have children that are hungry. We have those who are unable to pay their rent and their mortgage. So, we're not through this yet and the very generous bill that was passed in December is about to expire.
So, the time is now. It's very important that we help our businesses, we help our families, we help our workers get to the other side of this pandemic and we need additional relief now.
BURNETT: All right. So, let me ask you about some criticism you're getting actually from the progressive part of your party. Biden has agreed to compromise with moderate Democrats, so he's narrowing the income eligibility for the next round of stimulus checks, so fewer people are going to get them. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez disagrees with this.
She tweeted, "Conservative Dems have fought so the Biden admin sends fewer & less generous relief checks than the Trump admin did." She goes on to continue criticizing it.
So, she's saying you've caved to conservative Democrats, fewer checks, less generous checks, what's your response?
ROUSE: The President has always been dedicated and committed to ensuring that those Americans that need checks receive those checks. Let's be very clear on what the difference is, 98 percent of those households that receive checks in December will receive checks under the American rescue plan and those checks are just as large. The President is committed to those households receiving $2,000 checks.
So, there was a small compromise, but really the vast majority of Americans and households are going to receive the same level of assistance from the federal government as before.
BURNETT: All right. Well, 98 percent, it's a pretty stark there, you make your point. All right. I want to ask you about another thing, I know you've heard about this, but recently I've been talking to a variety of business owners who are saying, and this is anecdotal, this is just their experience.
They can't get employees to come back to work right now for things like cleaning, because of the $300 enhanced unemployment benefit is paying some of them more than going back to work. And obviously, this bill would up that payment from $300 to $400. Does that concern you and is there a point where you say you're going to have to pull the plug that you're going to end these extra benefits, which that's going to become hard to do?
ROUSE: That's interesting. The economic evidence suggests that the unemployment assistance that has been extended during the pandemic has not actually discouraged people looking for works. I appreciate that small business owners may have their own lived experience, but by and large the benefits of help families get through the pandemic to pay their bills and there's no evidence that it's actually discouraged people from looking for work.
We know that the economy will pick up that is the very intent. The idea is not to be on life support forever. We know we're going to get to the other side of this pandemic. And there will be a time when we do not need the additional federal assistance, but we're just not there yet.
BURNETT: So, let me ask you about one other thing, obviously, is the fraud that's happened, the Government Accountability Office report just this week said the PPP loans, small business loan programs are high risk for fraud. Those are their words. The Inspector General for the Small Business Administration earlier this year said more than $3.5 billion, I believe, in PPP loans were given to people who were on the Treasury Department's 'do not pay list'.
So, look, it's hard in legislation to stop all of this, but are there more safeguards in place so that that fraud doesn't happen?
ROUSE: When the PPP program was stood up last spring, it was Congress acted so quickly in the face of an unprecedented crisis and the imperative was not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. But, obviously, we need to do better, and the Biden administration has that. I know the Small Business Administration and Treasury are working to ensure that the loans get to the right businesses and that there's accountability on the other end.
Because what is important is that we aid those businesses, especially the small businesses that truly need our assistance.
BURNETT: I just want to ask you one other thing and you and I talked months ago in the height of the pandemic, the White House today acknowledging there's a lot of support for Shalanda Young to be the next OMB nominee, obviously Neera Tanden's nomination has been withdrawn. If Young were to be nominated and confirmed, it would have been the case with Tanden as well, but with Young the President's economic team would be mostly women, Treasury Secretary Yellen, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, yourself. On a personal level, how significant is that to you?
ROUSE: I am just so proud to be working with this team of women and men, but there's an economic team that the President has assembled. But I have to say it's truly a triumph. The economics profession is not known for its gender diversity and so I think it really is a testament to the strides that we've made and I'm just very proud and excited to be working with them.
BURNETT: All right. Well, I appreciate your time, Chairwoman. Thank you so much tonight.
ROUSE: You're very welcome. Thank you.
BURNETT: And next, we have breaking news, CNN learning that investigators are looking into communications between lawmakers and the Capitol rioters. Did members of Congress actually help the insurrectionists?
Plus, the Biden ministration hitting back at Texas after the state's Governor made this claim.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R) TEXAS: The Biden ministration has been releasing immigrants in South Texas that have been exposing Texans to COVID.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And one of New York Governor Cuomo's accusers is speaking out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He implied to me that I was old enough for him and he was lonely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Breaking news, CNN learning federal investigators are looking at communications between lawmakers and the pro-Trump mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol in the days around January 6th. Officials are trying to determine whether members wittingly helped the insurrectionists.
Evan Perez broke this reporting tonight and he is OUTFRONT. So Evan, what are you learning about these contacts between lawmakers and rioters? We've heard there might have been some but obviously now investigating it and getting at this crucial question of whether it was witting coordination in any way?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, Erin, in the in the weeks of this investigation that's been going on the investigators have been able to get some devices that belong to some of the accused rioters. And on those devices, they have found contacts with members of Congress in the days surrounding January 6th.
Now, we don't know what the content of those communications were. We don't know the extent of it, but we know that there are some instances where some of these accused rioters claimed that they had close associations with members of Congress. They said that some of them said that they were providing security to some of those lawmakers who spoke at events in the days around January 6th.
And so, what one official I talked to said there's a lot of smoke and sound now, so now the FBI and prosecutors need to try to figure out what this means. Now, at this point there's no indication that members of Congress are themselves yet under investigation.
But as you know, some Democratic members of Congress have accused Republican lawmakers of giving tours that could have been used to do some surveillance. You'll hear in some of those videos people having a pretty good idea of where things are in that building. And if you've ever been in that building, you know how Byzantine it can be to try to find your way around.
So again, these are big questions that investigators are trying to figure out and the big thing that you're pointing out, whether they provided witting or unwitting support for the insurrection.
BURNETT: Yes. No, crucial, but as your reporting shows the fact that there are contacts and there were texts in those cell phones, we don't know where that will lead, but I think for most people watching that in and of itself is just something to say wow. Wow. Just that alone.
All right. Evan, thank you very much.
I want to go now to Greg Ehrie, who was with the FBI for more than 20 years focusing on domestic terrorism, currently VP of Law Enforcement & Analysis for the Anti-Defamation League.
So Greg, the point I just made to Evan, the fact that there are communications between lawmakers and people who were part of that armed mob is in and of itself pretty disturbing and shocking and should be to anybody. It does not, however, answer the question of what those communications were and whether there was witting coordination between members of Congress and the mob. So, what will investigators do to answer that crucial question?
GREG EHRIE, FMR. FBI SECTION CHIEF, DOMESTIC TERRORISM OPERATIONS SECTION: The events on January 6th are not the end of the story, it's the beginning and the Bureau is the best in the world at this. What they're looking at right now are what we call the metadata between the communications. That first and foremost places people at the scene, which is evidentiary. But then they have to dig a little deeper and say is there criminality involved.
I agree with you. Any contact between somebody in the building and one of these rioters, especially if they committed a crime, is certainly troublesome. [19:20:04]
But the bureau needs time to methodically go through this and look into the investigation to come up with the answers to the questions you're looking for.
BURNETT: So, I recently spoke with Democratic Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon and she told me she saw a tour of people in MAGA apparel in Congress, one or two days before the attack. Here's exactly what she told me about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MARY GAY SCANLON (D-PA): I noticed a tour going through the tunnels underneath the office buildings to the Capitol and I remarked upon it because it was unusual. I hadn't seen a tour since March. You can't even get into that area unless you're with a staffer, so there had to be some sort of license to get in there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: She's pointing out, Greg, that during the virus you couldn't just bring in tours. So, the fact that anybody was in there getting a tour was so unusual that it was notable to her and then, of course, it was the people in MAGA apparel and it was right before the insurrection. So how unusual does this all seem to you when you put it in the context of evidence reporting?
EHRIE: I'm sorry, Erin, I think I got most of your question there if you can hear me. Again, it's troublesome. But we need to go back and the Bureau is going to be looking at this very carefully and saying were tours allowed, how did those tours get established. First, ensure that these facts did happen and then they have to look at what the impetus was, why were those people there, who were they and see what the rationale was and if there was a criminal aspect to what (inaudible) ...
BURNETT: All right. It looks like - at least, we got the main part of his answer. Thanks very much to you, Greg, if you can hear me from your TV somewhere.
And next, we're going to take you to Texas where the Governor's decision to lift the mask mandate is dividing business owners.
Plus, we're hearing tonight from one of Gov. Cuomo's accusers who says she believes the Governor wanted to sleep with her.
BURNETT: Tonight, the White House firing back at an accusation from Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Abbott claiming today that the White House is releasing COVID positive immigrants in his State, even though he said don't bother with the masks. His accusation coming after President Biden criticized Abbott's decision to lift COVID safety restrictions including mask wearing as quote 'Neanderthal thinking'.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ABBOTT: The Biden administration has been releasing immigrants in South Texas that have been exposing Texans to COVID. Some of those people have been put on buses, taking that COVID to other states in the United States. That is Neanderthal type approach to dealing with the COVID situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: OK. It's just Neanderthal back and forth here. But Abbott offered no proof for - it's a pretty strong accusation there. The White House today saying Abbott's claim is 'not factual'.
OUTFRONT now, Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. So, Doctor, what do you make of Gov. Abbott's claim that the White House is the one to be mad at because they are, he says, releasing COVID positive immigrants in Texas and sending them on buses to other states?
DR. PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN, NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Yes. I think, Erin, the role of immigrants in this is small at most. It's extremely modest. As far as I know, the United Kingdom is not coming from our southern border. This is the problem. The problem is the B117 variant that's now accelerating and there's pretty good evidence now that that B117 variant is more transmissible than what we've seen before and the U.K. government has put up a pretty compelling evidence, not peer reviewed, but it's pretty compelling evidence on their website that it's more lethal.
And now this is starting to accelerate in Florida. We've got up to 10 percent or more of the virus 1925 [00:02:40] in Florida or B117. And now the Houston Health Department is also saying that the variant is going up in Houston wastewater as well. So, it's here in Texas and we've got to take steps and get ready for it.
And unfortunately, we don't have enough vaccine supply to vaccinate ahead of the variant fully and so I think I'm really concerned about relaxing masks and another social distancing issues at this time.
BURNETT: Well, right, and obviously depending on the variant, some of the variants - you talked about B117, but many of them are more transmissible. Many, if not all of them, are also, it seems, going to be more deadly. And some of them are also going to lower vaccine efficacy. So you've got a trifecta of things, but on the B117, specifically, you just said that there's evidence now that it is widespread in the Houston wastewater, which we know has been a way that they've been able to identify where coronavirus is.
Given that, given that the Governor is relaxing restrictions, including the mask mandate, how bad do you think it could get in Texas at this point?
HOTEZ: Well, I mean, and again this is a national problem. It's not only in Texas or only in Florida, but it's clearly accelerating in Texas and Florida. We know that. And it could be the beginning of a fourth wave. We've already seen - we heard from Rochelle Walensky, Dr. Walensky, two days ago that the numbers are not declining as fast and they're clearly plateauing. And my worry is that's a harbinger for it's going to start shooting back up to that fourth wave.
And the point is, we have good vaccines coming and they're going to be here in abundance starting in June so that by the summer we can fully vaccinate the American people. That's really exciting. We also have an evidence now that these vaccines actually halt or slow asymptomatic transmission from studies coming out of Israel.
HOTEZ: So potentially we can vaccinate our way out of this, but we've got a very tough spring ahead of us. This is not the time to be relaxing restrictions.
BURNETT: So here's the thing about that though and I think this is important for people to understand, this used to be seen through somewhat of a political lens, but now it isn't. Vaccines are coming out, people are tired of restrictions and we're not just seeing Florida and Texas reduce them. Connecticut says they're going to be pulling them back sharply in the next two weeks. We're seeing it everywhere, blue states and red states.
Dr. Fauci said there be any pull back in restrictions until the number of daily new infections falls to 10,000 or considerably less. We're currently at 60,000 to 70,000 and it's plateaued.
So, we're not anywhere close to where he says we should pull back, but we're seeing a big 70,000 and it's plateaued. 70,000 and it's plateaued. We're not anywhere close to where he says we should pull back, but we're seeing a big pull back.
So, put those two things together and tell me how worried you are about that.
DR. PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Well, Erin, remember last summer when we had 60,000 to 70,000 new cases we were all horrified, right?
HOTEZ: And so, even though we're coming down it's still plateaued at incredibly high level. This is still a screaming high level of transmission.
This is not a time to pull back. I'm really worried about this U.K. variant. If it's anything like what we saw in England, where, remember, it just appeared in September and by December, it had overwhelmed the country and we saw the horrible effects. I don't want to reproduce that here in the United States. I don't want to see big spring breaks also going into Florida where you have 10 percent of the isolates of that B.1.1.7 variant.
I don't want to see big spring breaks coming into Texas where we've got the B.1.1.7 variant. This is a time to be cautious. We don't want to lose lives before we can vaccinate the American people.
BURNETT: Dr. Hotez, thanks very much.
HOTEZ: Thank you.
BURNETT: So, what will Governor Abbott's order in Texas mean for small businesses across the state, right, where he says don't worry about the masks anymore?
Well, Ed Lavandera is OUFRONT tonight in San Antonio.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Mike Nguyen whips up lunch in his San Antonio noodle restaurant, he can't help thinking what will happen next week when the state's mask mandate is lifted.
MIKE NGUYEN, OWNER OF NOODLE TREE: What he's done is he's put the burden on the business now.
LAVANDERA: He says Texas Governor Greg Abbott is forcing small business owners to become mask-wearing police and face the frustrations of defiant customers.
NGUYEN: Instead of be a real leader and uniting us and helping us get past it, once for all, he's created division.
LAVANDERA: The last year has already been brutal for Nguyen. We met him last may when he told us COVID ravaged his business, he would close the noodle diner to undergo months of cancer treatment. Six months later, Nguyen reopened and he's struggling to keep the business going.
NGUYEN: We all have COVID (INAUDIBLE). I even have it at this point. And it's just like we're -- we're on edge. People's anxiety are at an all-time high.
GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: This must end.
LAVANDERA: Without consulting most of his medical advisers, Republican Governor Greg Abbott says because of lower positivity rates and the vaccine rollout, it's time to fully reopen the Texas economy and lift the mask mandate. While the number of people hospitalized with COVID- 19 is dropping, the state still has one of the highest hospitalization rates in the country.
ABBOTT: Texans have mastered the daily habits to avoid getting COVID.
LAVANDERA: Missy Herring says in her south Texas embroidery and print shop, the mask mandate was always ignored. She's celebrating the governor's announcement. MISSY HERRING, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER, CREATING PRINTING & MORE: I was
tickled to death.
LAVANDERA: Do you think mask wearing has kept the pandemic from getting worse?
HERRING: No. Everybody that I know who's been sick, they wore their mask faithfully. Faithfully. I've never worn the mask. I don't have people come in my store wearing the mask. I'm not sick.
LAVANDERA: But the governor's controversial decision has sparked a tidal wave of local leaders sending out pleas for Texans to keep wearing their masks.
Scenes like this is what many officials and business owners fear.
There is one other fear haunting Mike Nguyen, the recent unprovoked attacks on Asian Americans.
NGUYEN: Go back to China, or you and your kung flu. I'm nervous. My anxiety has been at an all-time high. I'm trying to hope for the best.
LAVANDERA (on camera): Erin, despite the criticism of the governor, there are still a great deal of support for this move by the governor. Some of the big chains here in Texas say they will still require customers to wear masks. Other big ones are saying it's the customer's choice. It's that inconsistency that has many people nervous how all of this is going to unfold starting next Wednesday -- Erin.
BURNETT: Ed, thank you.
And next, one of New York Governor Cuomo's accusers is coming forward with her story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NORAH O'DONNELL, CBS ANCHOR: Governor Cuomo said that he had never propositioned anybody. Do you believe that he was propositioning you?
CHARLOTTE BENNETT, GOV. CUOMO ACCUSER: Yes.
O'DONNELL: For what?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And the Putin opposition leader who was poisoned being transferred to a brutal Russian prison. Fifty to 60 people crammed into a cell and worse. A confidant of Alexey Navalny is my guest.
[19:38:32] BURNETT: Breaking news. One of New York Governor Cuomo's accusers speaking out in her first TV interview.
Twenty-five-year-old Charlotte Bennett detailing the inappropriate questions that she says the governor asked her last June, while she was working as one of his aides, including questions about her history as a sexual assault survivor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENNETT: And then he explains at that point that he is looking for a girlfriend. He is lonely. He's tired.
O'DONNELL: You just finished dictation and the governor is telling you he's lonely and looking for a relationship.
BENNETT: Yes. He asked if I had trouble enjoying being with someone because of my trauma.
O'DONNELL: This is -- seems highly inappropriate.
BENNETT: Yeah. The governor asked me if I was sensitive to intimacy.
O'DONNELL: In his office?
BENNETT: Yes, during the workday.
O'DONNELL: You had been quoted as saying that he also asked you about if you had ever been with an older man.
BENNETT: Yeah. He asked me if age difference mattered. He also explained that he was fine with anyone over 22.
O'DONNELL: And how old are you?
O'DONNELL: What were you thinking as he's asking you these questions?
BENNETT: I thought, he's trying to sleep with me. The governor is trying to sleep with me, and I'm deeply uncomfortable and I have to get out of this room as soon as possible.
O'DONNELL: How did you respond to those questions?
BENNETT: I responded honestly. And when I was even thinking of coming forward, I think that was where I held the most shame in that like I really was uncomfortable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Governor Cuomo has responded to Bennett's claims as saying he didn't know at the time that he was making anyone feel uncomfortable.
OUTFRONT now, Jesse McKinley, "The New York Times" reporter who broke news on Bennett's allegations.
And, Jesse, you know, you broke Bennett's story. You interviewed her. But, you know, when we're hearing her voice out loud and she's saying that the governor was asking her these kinds of questions, they are deeply inappropriate in any setting. He knew she was a victim of sexual assault.
It's awful to even hear about it and certainly to hear it in her voice.
How powerful is this?
JESSE MCKINLEY, ALBANY BUREAU CHIEF, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I thought it was remarkably compelling and remarkably
convincing. You know, I had spoken to Charlotte over the phone several times last week when I was composing that story which, of course, is her story, not my story, and found her very compelling and convincing.
But to see her face, the obvious emotion that is still percolating and rippling through her, I found it very, very, very emotional, and I think some of the statements she made tonight kind of crystallized some of the allegations that she's been leveling against the governor, including the idea that, you know, she was very clear as to what was going on, but it just didn't work out the way that he wanted. That's an approximate quote, but I think that really goes to the heart of what she is alleging the governor said.
BURNETT: And the fact that she's talking. I mean, I just have to say, you know, you watched this and she's talking about the fact she felt shamed because she answered those questions honestly. That should choke anyone up, right? It's awful.
And she then responded to his statement about her allegations, right, when he said I'm sorry -- this is what I find shocking. I'm sorry if anyone was uncomfortable. How could you think you're asking somebody who survived sexual assault whether they still felt intimacy, whether that would make them uncomfortable? I mean, that's just B.S.
But here's what the exchange was with her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Governor Cuomo said in a statement that what he said may have, quote, been misinterpreted. Did you misinterpret him?
BENNETT: No, I understood him loud and clear. It just didn't go the way he planned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So, Governor Cuomo, then, tried to turn the page with the statement yesterday. But when you hear her explaining what he said, how those conversations went, the questions that he was asking, that he now actually is trying to say he didn't think anyone would feel uncomfortable, this is now clear this isn't going away, isn't it? MCKINLEY: Well, I think this makes it much more difficult for the
governor to, as you said, turn the page. I think that he hoped yesterday's apology would essentially allow him to move on, to get back to the business of the state. He said very clearly I'm not going to resign, et cetera.
But this sort of statement televised to a national audience where a lot of people may not be reading "The New York Times" or even watching CNN, God forbid, that those people are going to be seeing that, seeing this young woman's face, seeing what she's saying and hopefully hearing it.
BURNETT: Hopefully so.
All right. Well, Jesse, thank you very much for your time. Jesse broke the news on two of the accusers her for the New York governor. Thank you so much.
And next, I'm going to talk to a former top Russian official. He helped pay for the opposition leader Alexey Navalny's expenses when he was poisoned and came out of the country, put himself on the line, paid for those. Tonight, he tells me why he fears for his own safety.
And we're going to take you to an Arizona county tonight where nearly half of the adult population has gotten at least the first dose of a vaccine. What's their secret?
BURNETT: Tonight, top Putin in opposition leader Alexey Navalny in a holding cell awaiting transfer to a notoriously brutal prison work camp for the next 2-1/2 years. In that prison, former inmates say 50 to 60 people are crammed in a single dorm. Inmates are forbidden from talking and forced to stand on their feet from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., 16 hours a day.
It comes one day after the Biden administration hit seven Russians, including two top Putin deputies and the head of the equivalent of the Russian CIA and FBI, the FSB, with sanctions for the poisoning of Navalny.
OUTFRONT now, a key ally of Navalny, Sergey Aleksashenko. He helped pay for Navalny's medical treatments after the poison assassination attempt and he's also the former deputy chairman of Russia's central bank.
Sergey, I very much appreciate your taking the time to talk to me tonight. You know, we know Navalny is now ready to be transferred here to this penal colony with notoriously brutal conditions. How concerned are you that Putin will not rest until Navalny is silenced?
SERGEY ALEKSASHENKO, FORMER DEPUTY CHAIRMAN, RUSSIA'S CENTRAL BANK: Erin, very glad to be here. And I think that Putin's primary goal is to make Navalny silent. And
this colony, as you rightly mentioned, is very brutal in its internal regiment (ph). And it is prohibited for the people there even talk to one another.
So they should be silent not only with outside wall. They have no phone. They have no -- they cannot receive letters. They cannot answer letters.
But even they are not allowed to talk one to another. And that is precisely what Putin wants. He wants Navalny to disappear from the public appearance. He wants Navalny not to be heard in Russia and in the world.
BURNETT: I also want to ask you about what he did when he was released from the hospital. He spent about five months in a remote part of the German black forest. I know at first, right? He could barely walk, right? He had to work with a trainer to even be able to get his physical abilities back.
He recovered. He also continued his efforts to expose Putin and the poisoning. He then did something incredible. He decided to return to Russia, writing: Russia is my country, Moscow is my city, I miss them.
And this is after he put out this video that has gone completely viral in Russia, right? Where he exposed what he says is Putin's alleged multibillion-dollar palace, right? Built with corruption and money laundering. He did all of that from there, and then he went back and he was arrested immediately on landing.
How brave do you think that was? Or was it a mistake?
ALEKSASHENKO: As politician he wants to be with his supporters, and he cannot hide himself. So being in his shoes, I would say that there may be not a lot of politicians would be ready to do this but he wants to be leader, he wants to be number one.
BURNETT: So I want to be blunt. Many people who oppose Putin have died brutal deaths. They've been poisoned. Some of them shot in cold blood on the street.
In Navalny's case what has happened since his poisoning is deeply chilling. One of the top doctors who saved his life, you know, when Navalny's plane was diverted, that doctor died suddenly just last month.
Now, you're based in the United States, I know, Sergey. You're in Ukraine tonight. You spend plenty of time there.
Do you have any fear that by speaking out, by doing what you did as a friend and paying for Navalny's medical care that Putin could come after you?
ALEKSASHENKO: Erin, if I would say that I'm not afraid, if I'm not scared, it would be a lie because that was one of the reasons I left Russia in 2014, because I was announced as an enemy of the country, an enemy of the Kremlin.
And, of course, of course, I'm scared a little bit but I cannot hide myself. I cannot hide myself for the rest of my life to be silent. It's not what I wanted to do. It's not what I devoted my life, my previous life, because I made serious efforts and I participated in transformation of the country after -- that is, integration of the Soviet Union.
And this precisely may explain the decision of Alexey Navalny. If he stays outside of Russia, if he stays abroad, OK, that means he cross all his previous activity and he's nobody. Yes, you may be scared and every person may be scared of something, may be frightened by something, but you have to do what you have.
O'DONNELL: Former President Trump, as you know, repeatedly praised Putin as president, right? Again and again and again. Here are just a few examples.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: I have the great honor to be with President Putin.
President Putin was a total gentleman.
We had no calls from Russia for years. And, all of a sudden, we have this great friendship. And by the way, getting along with Russia's a great thing. Getting along with Putin and Russia is a great thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Biden, of course, not only speaks differently, Sergey, but his policy toward Putin is now completely different. Right? Doing these sanctions, for example, for Navalny's poisoning.
Do you think that this worries Putin at all?
ALEKSASHENKO: Yes. Of course, the change of the politics by Washington is very dangerous for Putin. He understands very well maybe the most important is not what President Biden has signed, that seven persons, lieutenants of Putin were under sanctions and the 14 companies. But the most important that President Biden, from the very beginning, he restored the alliance with Europe.
So, today, what is most important, sanctions are synchronized between the European Union and the United States. And that is the most damaging, that is the most frightening for Putin.
BURENTT: Sergey, thank you very much. I appreciate your time tonight.
ALEKSASHENKO: Thank you, Erin.
BURNETT: And next, what will life be like when just about any adult can get vaccinated? Well, we're going to take you to one county in this country that already knows the answer to that.
BURNETT: Tonight, a county outside of Phoenix could give us a glimpse of our collective future. Nearly half of Gila County's adults have already gotten the first COVID vaccine shot. No restrictions. Anyone over 18 can get one. And it seems to actually have worked a lot better than other places.
KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gila County, Arizona, population 54,000. Just 90 minutes east of Phoenix, is a glimpse into America's vaccine future.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's it.
KEVIN KANE, VACCINE RECIPIENT: Boom.
LAH: Kevin Kane, age 24, a new father.
KANE: Easy peasy.
LAH: Like everyone 18 and older in Gila County can get the Moderna vaccine.
KANE: Feels great, you know. Feels like I can actually move on with my life when this thing's over.
LAH: It's been tough worrying about COVID-19 while working as a pizza chef. His boss is John Wong.
JOHN WONG, OWNER, BLOOM & BRAVO: Without the vaccine, you know, I noticed we were down 30 percent, 40 percent on the business.
LAH: Today, 37 percent of eligible residents here have been vaccinated with their first dose, a number climbing by the day.
WONG: My second shot was last Friday.
LAH: Do you notice that people look different and feel different?
WONG: They're dining out more. Knowing there's a vaccine out there. There is a lot of hope.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gila County health department.
LAH: How did they do it?
MICHAEL O'DRISCOLL, DIRECTOR OF GILA COUNTY HEALTH AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: We set up the pandemic exactly like what we would do during our fire season. LAH: This is that incident command, run to handle a disaster.
TODD WHITNEY, INCIDENT COMMANDER FOR GILA COUNTY COVID RESPONSE: My background is not in health. It's in emergency management. Before that it was in law enforcement.
LAH: So you're a former cop?
WHITNEY: I am.
LAH: Rapidly communicating with the entire county just as they would during an emergency to relay news about mass vaccination sites.
O'DRISCOLL: Today we have only two positive cases, where about a month ago we were up to 60 a day. It's a load off our shoulders. It's a tremendous amount of stress just going away all at once. And it feels good.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is our vaccine freezer. And these are our two vaccine refrigerators.
LAH: You can take care of ten people with this vial?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. So right now we have 20 doses in this box. So --
LAH: Twenty lives.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twenty.
LAH: The county says having enough vaccine supply and getting doses into arms is easier when your population is as small as Gila County. But progress isn't without problems.
RHONDA MASON, CHIEF NURSING OFFICER AT COBRE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: We are seeing a hesitancy, especially with the younger population.
LAH: Is that one of the biggest challenges going forward, is hesitancy?
MASON: I really do believe it is.
LAH: But Gila County forges on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this your first one?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is indeed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
LAH: Reaching so many that Paul Miller, who works in the county but lives in Tucson, can get the vaccine and picture hugging his parents again.
PAUL MILLER, SUBCONTRACTOR, LIVES IN TUCSON: We haven't seen them in a year. And I've got a 2-year-old at home and they haven't seen their granddaughter in the year. So it's one step closer to going and seeing them.
LAH: So vaccines go to the states and it is the states that distribute to the counties. So how quickly it goes out really does depend on where you live and if you live in a large and complex county, it is going to take longer, Erin. And that's why here at Cobre Valley Medical Center, they scheduled a full day of second round shots.
BURNETT: That's amazing.
All right. Kyung, thank you so much.
And thanks so much to all of you. Hopefully that's a hopeful note.
Anderson starts now.